Colin Smyth at Flourish Dumfries
Colin Smyth at Flourish Dumfries

Last week’s Scottish Government budget was a ‘huge disappointment’ for Scotland’s struggling high streets, according to South Scotland MSP and Scottish Labour’s Rural Affairs Spokesperson Colin Smyth.

During a speech in the Scottish Parliament on Tuesday, the local MSP urged the Government to support our high streets by adopting Scottish Labour’s calls for a 50 per cent rates relief for retail, hospitality and leisure; and the introduction of a £50 high street voucher scheme for every adult.

However, in the budget which was announced two days later, the Government proposed to axe rates relief within three months and no voucher scheme.

Speaking on Tuesday, Colin Smyth said: “We need to cut costs and raise footfall for the people who want to do business in our towns.

“That is why Labour’s amendment sets out two measures that we have asked the Government to consider as part of its budget. First, we want to see at least 50 per cent rates relief for retail, hospitality and leisure properties, which would be similar to the level that was offered to businesses in England in the new financial year. That would ensure that Scotland’s businesses are not put at an economic disadvantage.

“Secondly, we need immediate fiscal stimulus to encourage people safely back into our town centre shops.

“The Northern Ireland spend local voucher scheme is a great example of how we can inject cash directly into our local shops. The scheme was delivered by the Department for the Economy and it offered everyone aged over 18 in Northern Ireland a £100 voucher to spend in local businesses until 14 December. Data from the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium shows that, in November, the number of shoppers increased to its highest level since before the pandemic and was down just 5.2 per cent on 2019, which can be compared with the rest of the UK, which saw falls of between 16 per cent and 20 per cent.”

Colin Smyth also highlighted the important of community-led initiatives like the Midsteeple Quarter in Dumfries.

He added: “There must also be long-term solutions. At the start of my speech I mentioned a property on Dumfries High Street that would have been the entrance to a shopping centre that never happened, and never will. That property was community transferred by the council to a new community benefit company—Midsteeple Quarter—thereby kick-starting its work to take back the High Street shop by shop.

“The company is now investing in that property and others to deliver the mix of uses our town needs, including good-quality retail space that is affordable for local businesses, community space and new housing. Its co-operative principle recognises that local people have the innovative solutions for their town, and that they should have a stake in its future through community ownership. That really is loving local. I commend the Midsteeple Quarter project to the minister, and invite him to visit to find out for himself the difference that it is making.

“More importantly, I urge the Government to ensure that, at the heart of its policies on town centres is investment to support that bottom-up, community-led approach to regeneration, recognising in particular that developing housing in town centres comes with additional costs and needs to be supported.”

Speaking after the budget announcement, Colin Smyth said: “The budget proposals were a real blow for Scotland’s high streets.

“For a long time Scottish Labour has been campaigning for rates relief and a high street voucher scheme like we see in Northern Ireland but both were ignored, which is huge disappointment.”

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